Urgency & Commitment 2

Hi everyone,
Firstly thank you for reading part 1 of Urgency and Commitment, if you have not already please check this out before reading part 2. Part 1 can be found here.

This article was written by one of Australia’s most highly regarded tennis coaches who has worked with players including Pat Rafter, John Millman, Jason Kubler and 1000’s more of Australia’s best juniors over the past 50 years. Gary Stickler is sharing his and LifeTime Tennis’s philosophy on coaching and all the additional and important elements that goes into giving a young tennis player the skills, mindset and belief to be a world champion.

General Observations:

Many drills or games are set up to practise a specific skill; however, players get little opportunity to practise that skill because the drill or game breaks down before the required scenario eventuates to facilitate the playing of that skill. No training benefit or overload situation is created because the required number of repetitions has not been completed. Players hit a ball into the net or out, serve double faults or miss returns of serve.

Players will only improve on the identified skill if they get to practise that skill more often.

Practise make permanent. Meaningful perfect practice makes perfect Repetition! Repetition! Repetition!

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(b) Player feeding/ Coach feeding In

(i) Player Feeding:

In the section on ‘Culture’ on page 14, and ‘co-operative practice’ on this page, we discussed the teamwork approach to training and the benefits it offers the players. Listed below are some of the benefits that using players as feeders can provide to the program:

Teamwork: Everyone is helping each other with their improvement. A culture of caring for each other is created.

Coach Roaming: The coach is freed up to spend more time in closer proximity to the athletes hitting the ball.

(ii) Coach feeding in:

When players are working balls to each other, coaches will often feed the ball in to recommence the drill when one of the players has made a mistake. This is a wasted opportunity if the coach does not use this feed to work specifically on some aspect of their players’ game. Here are some ways the coach can create more learning opportunities on the identified skill to be improved with the ‘coach feed-in’.

See the section on ‘High Performance Feeding’ on Page 7 to provide ideas on correct ball feed practice for high performance players.

Perception/ Preparation:

The coach feeds the ball in anywhere and the players have to read where the ball is being hit to, move and prepare early. The drill continues on after that initial ball feed.

Skill Improvement:

When a player misses a ball, the coach feeds the ball a pre-determined number of times to practise a pre-agreed skill. This skill could be a one off or in a combination. While ball feeding may appear to be more practical in a one-on-one private, the same result can be achieved in a squad situation. While two players are being ball fed by the coach on a rotation basis, the two players at the other end can respond on a rotational basis to the shot being played. The variations of these types of drills are limited by the imagination of the coach.

If you wish to provide more improvement opportunities on identified skills it is important that:

All players are involved as often as possible

Depending on the intensity level the players are working at, some will be working while some are resting e.g.

High intensity- work rest ratio 1:3; Medium Intensity- work rest ratio 2:2; Low intensity- work rest ratio 3:1

(c) Co-operative practice
It is important to develop a teamwork approach to training during development years. The concept of teamwork, (assisting someone else to improve), will provide better quality hitting for all players, and will be discussed as part of a coach’s culture on page 14 of this paper. Girls are generally interested in making themselves look good, (i.e. the quality of what they do). This can present a challenge for coaches in developing a range of external focus skills in their female athlete, because the female athlete is more internally focused.

Boys on the other hand are more interested in making the player at the other end look bad, so developing a ‘co-operative practice’ culture with the male athlete will present a different set of challenges for coaches. The overall challenge for the coach when working with all players, is to create a ‘competitive environment’, (discussed on page 23), while providing training opportunities for the players to hit more balls.

Having players work balls to each other at below full pace will provide the following advantages:

More balls will be hit: This guarantees an improvement in both stroke quality and concentration.

Balance will be improved when faster movement is added: Drills that have one end of the court hitting the ball slower than it is coming to them, while moving faster; and the other end of the court hitting the ball faster than it is coming to them, are invaluable in developing a range of skills. See section (j) Multi-Skilling on page 11.

(d) Volleyer V Baseliner/ Three-quarter court/ Service line
As players’ volleying skills improve, have one player at the net hit with an opponent on the service line/ three quarter court/ baseline. One end hits faster while the other end hits slower. The outcome is for the players to build consistency, while developing footwork and racquet preparation, as well as fast hands-slow arm. By hitting at a closer distance to each other, the players will hit more balls in the same time frame, as well as reacting a lot more quickly to their opponent’s shot. As players improve, the pace of shot will increase.

(e) Variable learning
The concept of ‘variable learning’ is discussed in the section titled ‘Prioritised Coaching’ on Page 3. This method of learning provides coaches with an opportunity to practise an identified skill in short bursts more often, facilitating a faster improvement in acquiring that skill.

(f) No outs-Only out of reach
When practising, have you players ‘play on’ when either a second serve, groundstroke, volley or smash is hit out. Always have you players adopt the philosophy that there are ‘no outs, only out of reach’.

This has the following benefits:

Hitting more balls to facilitate faster improvement
Initial reaction time to the ball improves: Players are not making a judgement call about whether the ball is going to land in or out before they move.
Players coping mechanisms improve: Players have to be ready for the next ball instead of standing there giving themselves ‘negative feedback’ after missing a shot.
(g) More court time

Because the majority of families are either time poor or financially unable to buy additional lesson time for their child, it is important to maximize the lesson time they currently have.

Some of ways to achieve this are:

(i) Water Bottle:

Players should bring along a water bottle large enough to last them for the entire session. It should be filled up prior to the commencement of the session and placed on court in a shady position near the net post. During active rest sessions or between sets of drills or games, players can have a quick drink and continue on with their training.

No wasted time filling up a water bottle at the tap or going to a bag outside the fence during a session.

(ii) Parent Assistance:

Some coaches believe that parents should stay outside the fence while their child is having a lesson, while other coaches use parents as a valuable resource to pick up balls.

Not having to pick up balls during a session allows for more time working on your player’s game.

(iii) One ball hit-up:

For those sessions where a parent is not available to pick up balls, enforce the one ball hit-up rule. If a player hits a ball into the net, they have to sprint and pick it up, and sprint back to commence hitting again. This provides the following benefits:

There are more balls hit and less time taken walking around picking up balls.

Players have an incentive to hit more balls in. They quickly tire of having to run and pick up balls.

Players are doing some additional sprint and agility work

(h) High Performance Hitters

Some coaches operate a ‘High Performance Academy’ which includes a full time program. This program includes the following components:

  • 16-20 hours on court each week
  • Strength and Conditioning Program
  • Tournament Program with coach support
  • Sports Science/ Sports Medicine Program
  • Flexible schooling

While some academies provide these services to the athletes at no charge, other academies have a ‘user pay’ system. In some cases, the player’s families are unable to pay the full fee, and financial assistance is given to that player in the form of a rebate. It is not in anyone’s interests for players and their families to believe that they have a ‘right’ to be given assistance and that they are ‘special’.

Players should develop a culture of ‘earning’, ‘self-reliance’, and the ‘magic is inside me’, and understand that if they are assisted they have an obligation to ‘Pay It On’.

This allows an academy to use these players for the following:

(i) Assistant Coaches:

The high performance players can be used in the ‘Hot Shots Program’, as either coaches or team tennis supervisors. They could also do the ‘Junior Development Course’ as part of a traineeship, (Flexible schooling).

(II) Hitters/ Match Play:

Where parents are unable to afford the cost of additional coaching and training, they may be able to afford the lesser cost of additional hitting or match play. One of the key benefits of hitting with a high performance player is that they miss fewer balls and provide more consistent and better quality hitting for the players.

Another way of picking up your player’s preparation intensity is to have them hit with someone who hits the ball a lot harder more consistently. The younger player has to hit balls back with a ‘no defence/ attack only’ attitude, which develops their preparation and footwork intensity.

(iii) Ball Feeders:

High performance players can also be used as ball feeders to achieve overload situations and designated work-rest ratios. See the section on ‘High Performance Ball Feeding’ on page 7. Of course, this needs to be under the supervision of a knowledgeable coach, who has set up the drills to achieve the outcomes listed in the ‘High Performance Ball Feeding’ section of this paper on page 7.

Using your high performance players as feeders can also allow the coach to have more than one court under supervision operating at any one time, freeing hours up for the coach to pursue their passion for high performance development at other times.

(i) Ball pick Ups

In the section (g) on page 9 above titled ‘More Court Time’, the benefits of using parents to pick up balls has been discussed, as well as the advantages for players of ‘one ball hit-ups’.

Where players are required the pick balls up during a session, there is also an opportunity to practise other skills while doing this. Depending on the player’s development cycles and the skills that the coach has prioritised for them, here are some skills that can be practised while picking up balls.

Court Awareness: Picking up balls with your eyes closed

Agility/ Direction Change: Sprinting to pick balls up one at a time, and returning to put it on the racquet Ensure players are bending at the knees not the back.

Interval Training: Picking up the balls farther away first; followed by the balls a little closer; followed by the balls that are closest. Six balls for each of the distances, with a rest between each set of six.

Lunges/ Split lunges: Picking up balls with lunges ensuring that the knee is directly above the ankle.

Improvising: Throwing some of the balls that have been gathered into the basket- between the legs, behind the back, back to the basket, over the shoulder etc.

The advantages of doing more than one thing at a time are obvious, because it provides more practice and repetition during the same time on court. This will be covered further in the following section on ‘Multi-Skilling’ immediately below.

(j) Multi skilling drills/ Psych-Social skills

Because there are a large number of skills to learn in a range of areas, (technical, tactical, physical, psychological, social), it is not possible to teach them individually. It is imperative for coaches to develop on-court experiences for their players, that allow for a number of skills to be developed at the same time.

While match play is the ultimate ‘multi-skill’ experience, it is important to understand that too much overload, (too many things to consider at once), can have a negative effect on improvement. It is up to the coach to ensure that the drill or game includes enough of the identified skills to overload and challenge their student, but not too many so that they retain a sense of achievement and enthusiasm to learn.

Here are some examples of teaching one skill which improves and develop other skills at the same time:

Movement balance/ Upper body and arm control/ Racquet head speed/ Preparation/ Hold and Control Skills

Players are rallying as well as moving each other around. One end is hitting harder,(creating easy power), while the other is hitting a little slower, (controlling pace). The player generating pace will develop improved footwork as they will have to generate pace out of nothing.

The player who is hitting slower will be controlling the upper body and arm muscles,( slow arm-fast hands) and will need to move and recover quicker, as well as having better preparation for the ground-strokes, as the ball is coming faster to them. Running fast and hitting slower also develops better balance.

Perception/ Focus and Concentration/ Ownership and Responsibility

When players are developing perception skills, their movement and stroke preparation will improve, but so will their concentration. Players will need to have an awareness of the effect their stroke has on their opponent, where there opponent is situated in the court, and the shot that will be hit back to them, (broad external focus).

They will then need to decide what their response is going to be, (internal focus, decision making), and then watch the ball and execute their shot, (narrow external focus).

Once players are making decisions themselves, they are also developing ‘ownership and responsibility’ for their own learning outcomes.

Risk-taking/ Contact Points/ Targeting

Sideline Game: A simple game to develop these skills is called the ‘sideline game’. Players have to keep the ball between the singles and doubles sidelines, and when they miss a number of balls in a row, (based on their standard), they lose the point. This develops targeting, footwork and contact points, (hit the ball early and it misses one line/ hit the ball late or too close to you and it misses the other line).

Players will also make a decision when their opponent has no more lives left, to take a risk to force them to miss the next shot, knowing if they miss themselves, they will not be losing a point (risk taking).

Perception/ Teamwork/ Risk-taking/ Attacking and defending/ Movement/ Technique variety/ Limiting the opponents options/ Shot Selection and Decision Making/ Alternate Strategies

The slice game: This is a game played between two or four players. Every time the opponent plays a slice backhand that is going to land over the service line, players at the other end of the court are required to volley the ball. Variations of the game will add the half-volley as well as the slice, give bonus points for hitting a volley winner and so on.

Let’s examine some of the skills developed when playing the game:

Perception: Players will have to read whether their opponent is going to play a slice or hit with topspin, as well as judge if the ball is going to bounce in front of or behind the service line. They will also need to have an awareness of where their opponents are at the other end of the court when deciding which volley to play.

Teamwork: When the game is played with two players at each end of the court, it is important for each player to have an awareness of where their partner is so that the shot they play does not leave their partner exposed.

Sometimes when one player is at the net, they are unable to play an attacking volley and will be unable to hit the next ball played to them if it is hit with topspin. Their partner can run behind them and either play a shot which forces the opponents to hit their next shot as a slice, or hit the ball with more spin and shape to allow their partner time to recover back to the baseline.

Risk-taking: Decisions have to be made about when to hit a ball to keep the players in the point, to make it harder for their opponents to hurt them; or to set up and win the point.

Limiting Opponents Because players only have to volley the slice backhand and no other shot, decisions
Options: have to be made on where to hit the ball so that they or their partner are not exposed on the following shot e.g. hitting the ball to the opponents’ forehand so that you do not have to consider whether to run to the net or not.

When approaching the net on your opponents’ terms, knowing which ball to play to make it more difficult for your opponent to hurt you, if an important tactic to master. (With these game rules, forcing them to play a slice backhand and not a forehand or topspin backhand is the desired outcome if you are unable to hit a winner).

Alternative Strategies: Instead of winning the point with a ‘steal volley’ winner, players can bring the opponent into the net with a drop-shot and then hit at them with topspin.

Movement: Because the only ball the players are allowed to hit on the full is a slice backhand, the game promotes quick movement up and down the court.

The above examples show how one game, drill or on court experience can teach a multitude of skills. The number of these games is only limited by the coach’s imagination. What is important however, is that the games and drills are only played for the following reasons:

To develop the skills identified as important at this stage of your player’s development

To motivate players who have become a little tired and have lost focus.

Remember the importance of developing a range of personal skills in your coaching philosophy.

Just as important is to include a range of ‘Psychological-Social’ skills in all of the drills, games and on court experiences so that you are developing the complete player. Depending on your coaching philosophy and program culture, these could include: risk taking, competitiveness, evaluation skills, teamwork, rage to master, un-comprising fighting spirit, passion for the game, ownership and responsibility, positive self-esteem, loves a challenge.

(k) Commencing with a serve and return

The serve and return of serve are the two most important shots in the game as they are used to commence the point. Players will either commence the point with a greater chance of winning, or allow their opponent to have that opportunity.

Because these are the two most important shots in the game, coaches need to find ways to practise them more often. Commencing more drills with a serve and a return instead of an underarm feed is one way to achieve this outcome. In drills when the training intensity is high, players will need to rest between each set. During this rest period, coaches should take the opportunity to develop meaningful routines to manage the player’s heart rate levels and focus. (Heart rate monitors are also a valuable tool to assist this process).

(l) Goal setting/ Player assessments

Traditionally, goal assessments are done at the completion of a session, with the player’s goals adjusted for their next session. When coaches adopt a culture of ‘Urgency’, there is no such thing as tomorrow. Today’s problems get fixed today, and we place our focus on moving forward to another level tomorrow.

The evaluation of the session’s goals should be done three quarters of the way through the session, with time for the player to practise areas they were not happy with during that session. Fix today’s problems today-no tomorrow.

IMPORTANT: Court Awareness

Section 3 is devoted to practical examples of how to create increased opportunities in the time available to have more meaning practice opportunities that will fast track the player’s development.

With all drills and games, coaches should never lose sight of one of the most important fundamentals of all: court awareness, thinking the ball over the net, hitting the ball at the picture inside your head, keeping the head still when the racquet face is lined up to the ball.

Coaches all have a different way of explaining the concept of ‘watching the ball’, but if players are unable to master this concept, they will lack genuine ball control and will not realise their full potential. All drills and games, especially those practiced during the ‘active rest’ phase of the lesson, should have an emphasis on this very important concept.

While ‘keeping your head still and thinking the ball over the net’ is a skill developed with players from entry level, it will need to be reinforced continually through these development years. On page 11 in the section on ‘ball pick-ups’, there is an activity that assists ‘court awareness’ development.

While some people believe it is the players with ‘talent’ that develop into internationally competitive tennis players, there is another point of view that talent is a myth. This point of view is backed up by a large body of research, and subscribes to the view that meaningful repetitive practice is what is required to develop high performance athletes.

The previous section, (3), of this paper subscribes to the theory of ‘Meaningful Practice’, and is devoted to a range of concepts that provide coaches with an ability to maximize the time and resources available to develop their players in a shorter time span.

FAST TRACKING with URGENCY -n MEANINGFUL REPETITIVE PRACTICE

4 As a coach- How far am I prepared to go? How committed am I? What is my philosophy and culture?

At the commencement of this paper on page 1, we spoke about ‘Urgency’ and ‘Commitment’. While the commitment of the player and their parents is very important and should not be underestimated, it is the commitment of the coach and the academy or club that we would like to explore. Let us examine some of philosophies and culture of a high performance training centre and its’ staff.

(a) How far am I prepared to go?

(i) Restructuring the business:

While established coaching academies will have a business structure that provide development pathways for players of all ages and standards, coaches who have been operating for a relatively short period of time may operate their business as a sole proprietor. Coaches who have a vision on developing players to international standard will need to look at their business structure, and make some changes to ensure that they have the human resources necessary to develop players to high performance standard.

Younger coaches can develop the skills required to develop their business by speaking with the more established coaches who have already gone through this process. Tennis Australia also delivers a course for coaches in business management that is tennis specific.

On page 10, ‘High Performance Hitters’, there are also a range of options for how coaches can use their high performance players to provide no cost assistance in other areas of the program

To have the staff required, coaches have a number of different options available to them:

(a) Coaches can be employed to work at entry level, freeing you up to spend more hours indulging your passion for developing high performance players:

Depending on their educational background and qualifications held, assistant coaches can be put on traineeships with financial assistance towards their salary available from government.

(b) A coach employed to manage the high performance program.

If coaches believe that they are better suited to work in the development level program, then they may decide to employ a coach to work predominantly with their high performance program. As coaches working with high performance players require a different mindset, It is sometimes difficult to attract the right person to a position like this.

Apart from the knowledge required to develop players to international standard, high performance coaches need to have the following attributes:

Be excited with the potential of the athletes they will be working with.

The coaches must genuinely care about the athletes they are working with, (see the section ‘We Care’ on page 21).

The coaches must love the tennis industry and feel they are privileged to be working with the players rather than the other way round.

The coaches need to be prepared to ‘go the extra mile’, and be prepared to accept they will not be paid for this extra time when they do.

Have a philosophy that ‘close enough is not good enough’ and be committed to the athlete every minute, every lesson, every day, every week, every year.

Because of these factors, and the owner of the business having a greater commitment to the business and its’ customer base, he is better placed to make the decisions that require sacrificed income for the business. At high performance level, it is important financial considerations don’t impact player developmental outcomes.

(ii) Parent Support:

On page 9 in the section titled ‘More Court Time’, an example of how parent involvement in picking up the balls during lessons will provide greater hitting time for the players. Commitment of the parents in other areas is vital as well if the program is to be successful, and provide an opportunity for the players to become ‘the best they can be’.

The parents of the athletes in the program have to be actively involved in the program at the facility so that the vision of ‘Developing International Standard Athletes’ is shared by all; parents, players, coaches and support staff. A ‘Parent Support’ group charged with the responsibility of raising funds for the high performance program is one way of achieving this.

(iii) Outside funding- government, casino trust, sponsorship

There is funding available to ‘not for profit clubs’ from the three different tiers of government, local, state and federal, as well as from casino trusts, for projects listed in those organisations guidelines. This will mean that coaches will need to set up a club structure with a constitution etc. There are also organisations who assist with the preparation of submissions to these bodies for a fee.

Other income can be generated through sponsorship dollars. Most facilities have something to sell a potential sponsor. e.g. fence signage, logos on player’s clothing, newsletters, websites, customer data base, direct sales (drinks, confectionery, hot food, cleaning products) etc.

(iv) Player Development Pathway:

The question sometimes asked of coaches is- ‘When do you know that a player is going to be a high performance player’? The answer should be- “From the very first lesson they take with the coach’

Good coaches have a development structure that provides a pathway for players to develop from entry level and realise their dream of becoming the best they can be. As players progress along this pathway, some players will stay on track to realise the dream, while the majority will branch off into social and recreational programs.

If coaches do not have this development structure in place, they can fall into the trap of allocating all of their time into the development of ‘promising, talented????? tennis players’, and neglect the development of all the other players at the facility.

(v) Sports Science and Sports Medicine Support

In the section ‘Ball Pick Up” on page 11 of this paper are ways of doing additional fitness work while picking up balls during coaching, however there is no substitute for a quality ‘sports science and sports medicine’ program. Listed on the next two pages are some of the personnel required to provide this quality program.

The Role of Sports Science/ Sports Medicine:

Coaches need to be aware of the demands that high performance sport places on the body, and should commence a program capable of maximizing performance and minimizing injury as soon as possible. Many a player’s promising career has been cut short, or valuable training lost due to injury or the need to recover from growth problems.

It is a fallacy to believe that strength and conditioning programs only need to be commenced during middle to latter teens. The body and mind are subjected to increasing levels of stress during the growth cycle years, and it is too late on most occasions to commence a program of evaluation and enhancement once problems are starting to emerge.

Before commencing in any ‘High Performance Program’, players should undertake a comprehensive player assessment. This assessment should provide a full bio-mechanical, psychological and physiological profile of the athlete, and serve as a starting point for developing a complete program for the player.

Once the initial assessment has been conducted and the player’s program completed, an off-court ‘Sport Science/ Sport Medicine’ support program provides the best possible management of a tennis player’s physical. mental, and emotional development. The elements contained in this off court program should be complemented by the on court program.
Some of the ingredients of a good ‘Sport Science/ Sports Medicine program include:

Athlete Screening:
This screening will identify individual strengths and weaknesses throughout a players growth and development, and should be carried out every three months. Throughout this growth cycle, bone growth outstrips soft tissue growth, and it is important to ensure that the body is not subjected to too much stress and become injured.

It is these assessments that form the basis for a comprehensive strength and conditioning program that ensures a well developed injury free body.

Strength and Conditioning:
Efficient acceleration and deceleration, agility, flexibility, speed and power play an important role in tennis performance, just as movement technique in the form of stride length and stride frequency contribute to make the player the best they can be.

Specificity of each players program is essential as no two athletes are alike, having different game styles and movement patterns.

Each player’s program needs to be continually adjusted to ensure the correct training stimulus is being applied, and testing of the player’s speed, power, agility strength and fitness levels carried out on a regular basis to access the player’s progress.

Running Technique:
Assessment protocols need to be developed for where the player’s feet meet the tennis court to ensure that they remain injury free. Many of the players lower limb injuries can be attributed to incorrect or poorly fitting footwear, or the unusual angle that the player’s foot meets the inside of the shoe and the playing surface.

A careful assessment of the player’s running technique need to be performed and recommendations made as to changes in running technique or footwear requirements,(orthotics).

Body Repair:
Niggling injuries require immediate attention, and, if left untreated, will generally develop into a longer lasting problem. A good Sports Medicine doctor is essential part of the athlete’s team.

Sports Massage:
Players require a massage on a regularly basis to ensure soft tissue doesn’t become tight and injuries occur.

Sports Nutrition:
A set of good nutritional principles need to be developed for each athlete to contribute to, and maximise each athlete’s performance. Optimal performance in both training sessions and competition requires the correct balance of energy, nutrients and fluids.

Sports Psychology:
Mention has been made of the importance of developing a good set of psychological-social skills. This will assist to develop a more competitive player with the mental toughness to succeed at the highest level.

Video Analysis:
Now days there are a number of apps and analysis programs available, which allow the coach to identify some areas for adjustment in their players. A slow motion and frame by frame replay can on a number of occasions divulge information hidden from the naked eye.

Periodised Competition Program:
A periodised athlete development program works on the assumption that the player need to peak for a number of important competitions each year. When developing a periodised program, the key competition phases are worked out first, and the training and recovery phases are developed as a response to the competition phase.

More specific training, match play and speed and power drills are placed into the athletes program closer to competition, while new learning and general fitness training is placed further away from important competitions. The days following competition will comprise of active rest.

Match Charting:
While a key part of a players development is the ability to evaluate both internally and externally, there are also a number of apps available which have the ability to chart winners and errors, serving percentages, break points won and saved, time at net etc. These can be an invaluable tool to compliment the teaching of ‘evaluation skills’, however should never be used as a substitute for these skills.

Technique Correction/ Adjustment:
A large number of coaches spend the majority of their time with technique correction, however, after a number of years of developing a range of holistic skills and fundamentals, it is virtually impossible to make major changes to technique. To understand why this is not possible, coaches need to understand how the brain functions, and how the brain protects those neural pathways which are being used more often.

Another area of the body that also has a major influence on technique is the eyes. Whether a player’s stance is more open or closed when addressing the ball on ground strokes is influenced by how the eyes function. To not understand how the body operates in these two areas, is to place the player you are working with at a great disadvantage. See the section on page 3 on ‘Prioritised Coaching’

Myelinisation of the Nerve:
Like a busy city with roadways crossing each other, the brain is connected to the skeletal and muscular systems through an intricate system of nerves. Just as travel time is minimized by creating major arterial roads, tunnels etc., the brain identifies which are the important nerves being used more often, and coats them with a substance called myelin. This insulates that nerve from all the other nerves in the proximinaty, allowing the signal from the brain to travel to the muscle a lot quicker. Once the nerve has been coated heavily with myelin, it is virtually impossible to change the message travelling along it, and a new neural pathway needs to be created .

Dominant eye theory:
The majority of people have one eye that is stronger than the other, and use that eye to track with. It is important for coaches to understand that a player’s dominant eye will influence just how open their stance will be on the left or right side of the body. If you are left eye dominant you will be more closed in your stance on the forehand side, and more open in your stance on the backhand side. e.g. Richard Gasquet

Those coaches who have a pre-determined point of view as to how their player should address the ball, will not be maximizing their player’s potential if they do not take into consideration which eye is more dominant than the other. A simple test to determine which eye is more dominant than the other can be performed this way:

Make a circle with the thumb and finger beside it. With both eyes open line up a distant object. Then close one eye and see if the object is still in view. Close the other eye and see if the object changes or is still in view.
Sport Science and Sports Medicine support is essential if players are to maximize their potential, however it is critical that the coach has some understanding of these important programs, and that both the ‘on court program’ and ‘off court program’ complement each other.

In the process of providing ‘Sports Science and Sports Medicine’ support to the high performance program, an opportunity exists for astute coaches to use the sports science and sports medicine providers to assist with sponsorship dollars. Increased income can also be generated.
An example of how this be achieved is:

Sponsorship:
Coaches can have suppliers to the program become sponsors of the program e.g. fence signage, website etc.

On Court Program:
When coaches are setting up squad programs, there is an ability to incorporate a fitness program into that squad program. This provides the following benefits:

Fitness for the program participants

A program with a competitive difference- the only program in the region, town or suburb with a fitness program included with the on-court program.

Provides an extra 30minutes for coaches to generate additional income

Example:
Without Fitness With Fitness (1hr+ 30min Fit) Additional Income

90 minute squad 4.30pm-6pm 4.30pm-5.30pm-6pm
6pm-7.30pm 5.30pm-6pm-7pm 7pm-7.30pm

(b) How Committed Am I?
From the previous section titled “How far am I prepared to go’, it is evident that there needs to be a major restructure of the coaching business if the high performance program is to be successful. i.e. business plan, additional staff, parent committees, sports science-sports-medicine support staff, periodised tournament program and much more.

We will now look at the added commitment that the coach wishing to work with the players at high performance level will be required to make, to give the program the greatest chance of success.

(i) Quality Lessons Every Day, Every Week, Every Year:
In sections one to three of this paper, there are a range of ‘best practice’ suggestions for coaches to consider incorporating into their lesson plan, to maximize the player’s chance of improvement. There are times when it is easier to have the players hit with each other, never feeding balls or offering much advice, or placing them in a line and bringing them out one at a time to hit with you while the remainder of the group watches on.

When someone joins you tennis academy, there is a responsibility to nurture the greatest gift they have, their potential. Remember they chose you, you didn’t chose them; and that in itself is a special honour. You owe them your very best, every minute you spend with them.

(ii) Player Care:
Coaches must genuinely care about the players they are working with, and take the responsibility to develop the potential they trusted to you very seriously. That care and concern will extend to hours outside of the times you are paid to work with them.

(iii) Public Holidays/ Wet Weather etc:
There is no such thing as wet weather or public holidays for high performance coaches, and the high performance players they work with. Coaches should continue to train their players without movement in light rain, and find additional time on a weekend to train when the session was washed out during the week.

There is no such thing as a public holiday for a high performance coach and the motivated players they are working with. Because your social and recreational lessons may be cancelled on that public holiday, you can commence early in the morning with your high performance players and take time off later in the day.

(iv) Customer Satisfaction:
Some people believe ‘customer satisfaction’ is when someone receives more that they expected to receive. What can you give extra to your players the next time you work with them?

(v) Professional Development:
Because ‘best practice’ for working with high performance players is always evolving and developing, it is important for coaches to continually share ideas with others, and keep abreast of innovation and technological advances by attending workshops and seminars. In fact, you owe it to your customers to ensure that you do.
(vi) Tournament Commitments:
Working with high performance players requires a well thought out tournament schedule, that not only exposes them to challenging competition, but also provides them with a degree of success. Travelling to tournaments to see you players hone their game under match pressure is compulsory for any high performance coach.

The days are long ones with practise in the morning, watching you athlete compete during the day and in the evenings, as well as sharing the roller coaster ride of emotions that accompany success and failure. No high performance coach will ever receive financial compensation for the long hours that tournament coaching and supervision entails.

As a coach, you are already aware of your players strengths and weaknesses and their ability to cope with success and failure, however tournament play brings up a range of other challenging situations that can expose and test your players.

Tournaments also provide coaches with an ability to interact with other coaches, and an opportunity to share their philosophies, experiences and coaching expertise. Every coach has an expertise in a certain area of the game. It is vital that coaches get an opportunity to share their expertise with their peer group.

(c) Philosophy and Culture:

It is important that coaches have a philosophy and culture that is understood by players, parents, coaches and support staff. Everyone involved with the athlete, the program, and the facility need to ‘all be on the same page’ together. The most important aspect of the program is the athlete and what they bring to the table. Coaches need to have a vision on how they see their players playing the game, however they also need to be receptive to the unique qualities that each player possesses , and don’t stereotype players.

There is a saying in coaching- ‘Players create talent identification for coaches, coaches don’t create talent identification for players.’ Some players have special qualities and are different to the others around them. Coaches need to embrace that difference and work with it.

On many occasions it is a difference in personality and make-up, but every now and again a player will do something special, that will become their trademark in the sport. e.g. Sampras’s jump smash, Rafter’s wide forehand volley, Gulbis’s forehand, Halep’s forehand, McEInroe’s serve, Kuerten’s backhand, Santoro’s groundstrokes etc. The role of the program is to ‘keep the dream alive in the player’, and have them believe that the program they are training in, will give them the best chance to develop that special talent within them.

What is that “X factor” your program possess that separates it from your competitors?

The players need to believe!

Below are a number of ideas that coaches could implement into their programs that could provide their players with the belief that training in the program could make their dream a reality.

(i) Hitting more balls:
Section three of this paper speaks about ‘meaningful practice, and gives many examples of ways to fast track the player’s development by practising identified skills more often during the same period of time allocated for training or practice. Hitting more balls than anyone else could become part of the facility’s culture.

(ii) Teamwork (Co-operative Practice)
Earlier in this paper on page 8, we spoke about ‘Co-operative Practice’ and the value it adds to the program. Players need to genuinely believe that everyone in the program is working together to assist each other become the best they can be.

Coaches understand the teamwork approach of parents, coaches and facility staff , however having all the players support each others’ improvement goals’ takes the concept of teamwork a step further. A practical example of teamwork is the ‘Slice Game’ on page 12.

There are many practical examples of players helping each other throughout this paper. Another example is:

After players have evaluated their session, have them work with each other on those areas they have identified require improvement, helping each other by hitting balls to the shot they would like to practice most.

(iii) Evaluation
Developing evaluation skills in your players is one of the greatest gifts you can give them. The ability to analyse their own performance, identify what is succeeding, and what isn’t, and make the necessary adjustments, is an important quality to develop in a sport where coaches are not allowed on court during tournament play.

Evaluation skills allows players to grown from every experience they have in the sport, not just the ones they share with their coach.

Below are some practical ways to teach ‘evaluation skills’.

(a) Ask questions of your pupils

(b) Use players as assistant coaches and give them specific things to look for in the player they are watching.. e.g. Is the backswing back before the ball bounces on ground-strokes?, Is the player recovering back to the correct recovery point after playing the shot?
As players improve and have a greater knowledge of tactics, technical strengths and weaknesses etc., don’t tell them what to look for, and see if they can evaluate from their own knowledge base.

(c) Have them evaluate the opposite end of the court and advise the player at their end how to capitalise on what they have discovered.

(d) While teaching ‘end of game’ and ‘change of end’ routines, also develop evaluations skills for these breaks .

Change of end routines and evaluation skills:
In the ninety second break at the change of end, have the players develop the following routines.

First 30seconds:
Evaluate how the point commenced and finished e.g. Commenced with an ace, serve to the forehand etc. and concluded with a backhand crosscourt error, forehand down the line winner etc. Start with the last point played and work your way backwards looking for ‘patterns of play’. Keep those things that are helping you win points and modify those things you have identified are losing you points.

Second 30 seconds:
Have a break and relax; have a drink; eat some food; place a towel over your head and switch off.

Final 30 seconds:
Base on your evaluation of the previous two games carried out in the initial thirty seconds of the change of end routine, focus on the tactics you have decided to adopt to give yourself the greatest chance of success.

Having your players work with each other to develop ‘evaluation skills’, reinforces the team work philosophy that has been developed as part of your culture. e.g. One player charts the match and assists another to evaluate that match.

Ownership and Responsibility

From the previous two sections on ‘evaluation’ and ‘teamwork’ on page 19, it is apparent the players are learning about the game and themselves with minimal interference from the coach. This provides players with the ownership of their own game, and charges them with the responsibility for their own learning, successes and failures.

It is important for players with the vision of becoming the best they can be to understand the concept of:

If it is to be, it is up to me

There are many challenges and opportunities in life, but only ever one problem. If you are unable to find a solution, then you know where the problem is.

The “Magic is inside me ( A Disney film called ‘Space Jams’ shows this concept)

Looking for others to achieve your outcomes for you is flawed, as you ultimately have control over only one person; yourself. Being selected in a special program can be motivation for some players, however ultimately it is your own efforts that will bring you rewards.

Practical examples of creating a culture of ownership and responsibility are:

Allowing players to develop the rules and guidelines by which the program functions, (What penalties there will be for any indiscretions etc.).

Developing teamwork and evaluation skills as listed on page 19.

Teaching perception and anticipation skills empowers players to make decisions for themselves

Allow players to decide when they need a break to have a drink

Allow players input into the on-court sessions they are involved in.

Use training diaries and have players set their own goals, (in consultation with the coach), for their improvement.

(v1) Close Enough is not Good Enough:

This is a very important component of a high performance culture. If player’s are turning up late on a regular basis, then a discussion needs to be had with the parents. In younger age groups, the players will not be transporting themselves to training, however when they are older they will become responsible for getting themselves to training more often. e.g. public transport, car.
How to handle problems such as this has been discussed in the section titled ‘Ownership and Responsibility” on this page- “Allowing players to develop the rules and guidelines by which the program functions”, as well as on page 18 in the section titled ‘Quality Lessons ——‘..

(vii) Competitiveness:
Creating an environment where players develop competitive skills is an important component of a successful high performance program. On page 19 of this paper in a section titled ‘Teamwork’, we have spoken about how players can assist each other with their improvement. While there is a time for co-operation between players when training, there is also a time to develop skills in a competitive environment. There is an old saying:

What is the difference between a piece of coal and a diamond? (Of course, the answer is pressure. This is what turns something that looks average, into something brilliant).

Some easy ways to create a competitive culture in your program is:

Create a scoring system in all drills and games including hit-ups. Coaches will need to decide when to apply the scoring system, and whether it applies to just winning or has a development outcome and focus.

A ladder system for match play and challenges.

(viii) Risk Taking:
‘Fear of Failure’ can be one of the most debilitating prospects to face for anyone throughout their life. Players who understand and embrace the concept of risk taking,(calculated risks at the appropriate time), and accept that failure is part of learning , will have a better chance of developing coping strategies when playing.

Coaches should never be afraid of making mistakes in front of their pupils, in fact, they should deliberately make mistakes during classes in front of their students to promote the culture of success through failure:

Don’t be afraid to try- failure is good- don’t be afraid to fail as it is the stairway to success.

(ix) Un-comprising fighting spirit:
Determination is one of the most underrated qualities to have. Its’ presence is closely aligned to the concept of ‘failure is good’ in the section on ‘Risk Taking” on page 21. No matter how many times your players fail at something new they are learning, reward them for the effort they display and their willingness to attempt something new and confronting. Always reward the personal skills displayed, irrespective of the outcome.

(x) Players don’t make mistakes, Only Coaches Do:
One of the most important assets that anyone can possess is their self belief. The old adage that’ you never have a problem until you believe you have one’ is certainly true when developing young tennis players’. It is important to consider this when analysing and correcting your players. Refer to page 3, ‘Prioritised Coaching’

One way to approach this issue with your players could be: An opportunity to learn some new things because your pupil has improved so much, or, developing an alternative in the players game to give them greater variety.

(xi) Passion for the game/ Positive Self Esteem
Players need to genuinely love the game if they are to become the best they can be. This love for the game has been created from entry level and needs to be nurtured and fostered by coaches during these formative years.

Some ways of achieving this outcome are:

Make the players feel they are part of something. Have a uniform,(T-Shirts, Caps etc)

Allow players to bring music to play during warm ups

Allow players to tell ‘A joke of the day’ at the commencement of the session.

Organise other functions for players outside of their tennis training.

(xii) We Care:
When your player can confide in you and tell you some of their darkest secrets, then, and only then do you know you have built a relationship, a bond that will allow you to work as a team with them to reach their goals. The players need to believe “You love them even though there are some things you don’t like about them”.

Take an interest in the things that interest your players. Give them a call on the phone, ‘out of the blue’, and congratulate them on how hard they are working and how you are enjoying the time on court with them. These little things will make a difference.
From the previous section, (4), on ‘Philosophy’ and ‘Culture’, it is evident that there is much more to coaching than just serves, ground-strokes, volleys and smashes. If you are able to develop an environment conducive to developing the beliefs in your players set out below, then you are giving them the greatest chance to become the best they can be.

The players genuinely believe that being part of the program you are delivering will guarantee them the best chance of success.

They will enjoy the environment they are training in, and will strive to become the best they can be.

While each coach will have their theories and best practices for the development of players, this paper has attempted to address some of the following.

The areas of development that are ‘non -negotiable ‘ in the sport. e.g. Sports Science principles, Trends in the Game, Training principles etc

Some ways to provide more repetition on identified skills and fundamentals during training sessions.

Regardless of what your believe are the skills and technique that need to be developed, motivated coaches are always searching for ways to ‘fast track’ their players, as well as providing an environment conducive to developing and motivating their players. I trust this paper has provided coaches with some ideas to assist with the outcomes of: Urgency and COMMITMENT

Good luck with your next five years of coaching and your quest to develop Australia’s next world number one player. .

Thanks for reading and we hope you have gained something out of this article.

Check out Gary’s recent article on the Players Voice. A behind the scenes look at his time with Pat and John. Read it here.